Some months back I got a telephone call from an American woman who was in Singapore on business. Our conversation went something like this.
Her. Good morning. I’m ringing to try to get some information about Buddhism (cheerful).
Me. Yes. How can I help you?
Her. We’re launching a new line of clothing, T shirts and the like. And the logo for the line is a picture of the Buddha holding a cup of tea. I’m sure Buddhists wouldn’t be offended by this. What would you think about this?
Me. A picture of the Buddha holding a cup of tea?
Me. As a logo on T shirts?
Her. Yes. That’s right.
Me. Look, I’m just a simple monk so you explain for me. What’s the connection between the Buddha and clothing? And why the cup of tea?
Her. Well, you know. The Buddha is associated with, you know, spirituality, the infinite and all that. And the cup of tea suggests, you know, casualness, easygoingness, you know.
Me. Mmm. Actually I don’t know. But you would like my opinion about this. Is that right?
Me. Well, I don’t think this is very offensive and I don’t think the average Buddhist would be offended by it either. I don’t think they are going to throw rocks through you window, threaten to kill you or burn down your factory. But I do think that a logo like this belittles Buddhism and I think most Buddhists would agree with me. They would probably be more sad than angry that an images which is particularly meaningful to them was being used so frivolously. And also that it is being used for a commercial goal.
Her. But I’m a Buddhist myself. I would never belittle the Buddha.
Me. You’re a Buddhist?
Her. Absolutely! I respect the Buddha and Buddhism (defensive).
Me. What are the Four Noble Truths?
Her. Er!..Um…Um. Er! The Four Noble Truths? (very hesitant)
Me. Yes, the Four Noble Truths. What are the Four Noble Truths?
Her. Er! D…D…D…Dalka?
Me. Mm. Am I right in saying that you are reading that from a book in front of you?
Her. I feel like I’m being interrogated here (slightly annoyed).
Me. Well. You told me you were a Buddhist. I asked you a pretty basic question about the Buddha’s teachings and you didn’t know it. The proper pronunciation is dukkha. I suspect that like a lot of people you mistake ‘respect’ for Buddhism, for liking it from a distance, while knowing very little about it and not practicing the parts that don’t suit you.
Her. No! I really respect Buddhism.
Me. Well, to get back to your question. You asked me for my opinion about your logo and I told you what I think. I think it belittles and diminishes a noble man and a noble philosophy of life and I think it is an unfortunate choice. I think to use a sacred image for commercial purposes in insensitive to the feelings of others and inappropriate. It’s on a par with getting an image of the Buddha, drilling a hole in the top of its head and sticking a lamp shade in it. I don’t think I can say anything else.
Her. Well, thank you (irritated).
Me. Be well and happy.